NFL Referee Gene Steratore’s decision to use an index card to aid in measuring a key first down during Sunday night’s Cowboys-Raiders game was “very unusual” but did not violate league rules, a league spokesman said Monday.
Steratore, who has been a referee since 2006, used what appeared to be a penalty card to measure the distance between the tip of the ball and the pole at the end of the first-down chains. He determined that the Dallas had in fact converted a fourth-down attempt, extending what turned out to be the Cowboys winning drive in a 20-17 victory over the Raiders.
Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said afterward that he saw “air” between the pole and the ball, even with Steratore’s card in between. But speaking afterward to a pool reporter, Steratore said he used the card only to “reaffirm” his visual decision.
“The ball was touching the pole,” Steratore said. “I put the card in there and as soon as it touched, it was nothing more than a reaffirmation. The decision was made based on my visual from the top looking down and the ball touching the front of the pole.”
The incident rekindled debate about the outdated and at times arbitrary way the NFL measures ball placement on the field. NFL referees place the ball directly below where they believe it was when the ball carrier was down by contact.
Linked chains are used to measure spots when the ball is close to the line to gain a first down. Generally speaking, referees are asked to make the decision based on visual evidence, but nothing in their guidelines prevents using a piece of paper to create a visual plane.